Yale researchers identify new tick-borne disease

deertickResearchers at the Yale Schools of Public Health and Medicine have discovered a new tick-borne disease, with many similarities to Lyme disease. A report published in the Jan.17 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine confirmed that 18 patients in southern New England and neighboring New York were infected by it. This is the first time the yet unnamed disease has been confirmed in humans in the United States.

The organism that causes this disease, Borrelia miyamotoi, was first identified in deer ticks in Japan in 1995. In 2011, Durland Fish, professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health and the recent study’s senior author, identified the bacteria in deer ticks in Connecticut in 2001. Yale scientists published the first evidence of human infection in 46 Russian patients in 2011.

“This is the first time we have found an infectious organism carried by ticks before we have recognized the disease in humans,” Fish said in a press release. “We usually discover new diseases during an epidemic and then try to figure out what is causing it.”

The disease shares many symptoms with Lyme disease, like rash and viral-like illness, with symptoms such as fever, aching muscles, headache and fatigue. Dr. Peter Krause, senior research scientist at the School of Public Health and lead author of the study, said that patients might also experience additional symptoms, such as relapsing fever.

“In addition to difference in the numbers presenting with the viral-like illness and rash, we also found evidence that about 10 percent of these [Russian] patients presented with relapsing fever,” Krause said in a video interview released by the Office of Communications for the School of Public Health.

Patients may have a fever for a few days. It ceases for a week or two before it returns. “Some people have had as many as 10 relapses over the course of a year,” said Krause.

While blood tests for Lyme disease will not detect infection caused by the B. miyamotoi bacterium, antibiotic treatment used for Lyme disease should treat this new infection as well.

Because deer ticks carry the bacterium, it is expected that this disease will be found wherever the deer tick and Lyme disease are found.

“We would expect most cases to occur in those areas where most Lyme disease cases occur, which is the Northeast and Northern Midwest,” Krause said in the video. “There’s also evidence, though, of infection in ticks in the far West. So I think it’s likely that human infection is occurring in the far West as well.”

As with Lyme diseases, this new infection will likely present itself in the late spring, summertime or early autumn. To help prevent tick-borne disease, it is recommended that when spending time outdoors in areas where ticks are likely to dwell (woods, leaf litter, tall grass and weeds), people:

• Wear long sleeves and pants, tuck shirts into pants and pants into socks

• Consider using insect repellant outdoors

• Keep your lawn closely mowed and free of leaf litter. Cut overgrown brush

• Meticulously check clothing, skin and hair after being outdoors in tick-infested areas.

• Remove ticks as soon as they are discovered, using tweezers to carefully pull out the entire body. Thoroughly wash the area of the bite with soap and water and put antiseptic on it.

• Mark the date of the bite on the calendar. Monitor the bite daily for the next month. Contact your doctor for any changes in the appearance of the bite location, a rash or virus-like symptoms

Comments

  1. karen says

    Thank you for the article. Can you please fix this:

    Wear long sleeves and pants, tucking shits into pants and pants into socks

    I have so many things I could say about this line, but I’ll refrain :-)

  2. says

    Oy! After my hike today, I picked four ticks off me (not embedded, thankfully) and even more off my doggie. Any word as to whether pets are susceptible to disease?

    • says

      Addi, I haven’t read/seen any news specific to pets, but considering that this new disease is showing so many similarities to Lyme, I would remain just as vigilante about picking those deer ticks off your dog!

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